How to Lessen the Pain when You Get a Cramp

Two Parts:Dealing with Cramps at HomePreventing Muscle Cramps

A muscle cramp involves involuntary, sudden and forceful contractions of muscle tissue (particularly in the legs and feet) that does not immediately relax.[1] They can last for many seconds, or in rare cases, many hours and cause intense pain. Almost everyone experiences muscle cramps from time to time, and the causes are numerous — dehydration, lack of electrolytes, mineral deficiency and as a side effect from taking certain medications. Cramps usually fade away without treatment, although they can be hastened or prevented with home remedies and a healthy lifestyle.

Part 1
Dealing with Cramps at Home

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    Stretch the affected muscle. Although cramps often manifest pretty quickly, they don't happen instantaneously, so you typically have a few seconds to try and thwart them. The best strategy aimed at aborting a muscle cramp is by counteracting it with a stretch.[2] Cramps predominantly occur in the muscles of the leg (hamstrings, calves and soles of your feet), so when you feel one coming on, stand up and oppose the cramp by stretching the muscle in the opposite direction. A cramp is a strong, involuntary contraction, so stretching helps to counter it by lengthening the muscle fibers.
    • For example, just as you feel your calf muscle begin to contract and cramp up, extend the affected leg behind you and assume a fencer's stance. Bend your forward-positioned leg at the knee and slowly lunge forward with both feet flat on the ground until you feel a calf stretch in the extended leg.
    • When combating a muscle cramp, hold stretches for at least 30 seconds while breathing deeply and see if that's sufficient. You may need to do a few more repetitions to successfully thwart the cramp.
    • Warming up then stretching your leg muscles prior to walking or any athletic activity may help prevent spasms and cramps.
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    Gently massage the cramp. A spasm is a portion of a muscle that contracts and becomes too tight, which creates pain and loss of function. However, if the spasm is especially forceful and sustained for more than a few seconds, then it's more appropriately called a cramp.[3] Muscle cramps often cause a visible or palpable hardening or trigger point in the involved muscle. As such, a common-sense approach is to feel (palpate) for the painful trigger point and then massage the affected muscle fibers with your thumb until the cramp subsides. Sustain pressure to the trigger point, which may help release the cramp. This approach is usually referred to as trigger point therapy by massage therapists, chiropractors and physiotherapists.
    • Although muscle cramps occur in children, they become much more common with advancing age.
    • If the muscle cramp is in the sole of your foot, use a tennis ball, soda pop bottle, or small wooden roller to massage the tension away.
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    Soak in an Epsom salt bath. Soaking your affected muscle groups (such as the legs) in a warm Epsom salt bath can significantly reduce spasm, pain, and swelling.[4] The magnesium in the salt allows the muscles to reduce their constriction and relax. It might take five to 10 minutes to pour a warm bath and add the salt to it, so this method is probably best for chronic muscle cramps or ones that are recurring (coming and going) over the course of a few hours. However, once in the bath, the warm water and magnesium-rich salt can provide quick relief.
    • Don't make the bath water too hot or soak for much more than 30 minutes, because the hot, salty water will pull fluid from your body and potentially dehydrate you.
    • As a quicker alternative, apply moist heat to your muscle cramp — microwaved herbal bags work particularly well and are sometimes infused with aromatherapy (such as lavender) that has further relaxing properties.
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    Take over-the-counter muscle relaxants. Although stretching, massage, and the application of moist heat are fairly quick methods for combating muscle cramps, taking medication can help if you're willing to wait a little longer for the effects to occur (about 30 minutes). As such, short-term use of muscle relaxants, such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), orphenadrine (Norflex), or baclofen (Lioresal), can relax muscle cramps due to an injury or other causes.[5] Keep in mind that drugs are not typically used to treat an ordinary acute cramp because most subside spontaneously before the medicine is absorbed and has an impact. Thus, muscle relaxants are better for chronic or recurring cramps.
    • Be careful not to take muscle relaxants with any other medications, as it can lead to unwanted side effects.
    • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking muscle relaxants because they can trigger sleepiness and reduce muscle coordination and reaction times.

Part 2
Preventing Muscle Cramps

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    Keep well hydrated. Playing sports or being active in general (particularly if the weather is hot and humid) can cause excessive water loss due to sweating, which leads to dehydration if you're not drinking adequate fluids to replenish and maintain normal blood volume. This kind of dehydration significantly increases the risk of muscle cramps and strains.[6] Muscle cramps under these conditions can also be an early sign of heat stroke. Thus, make the effort to properly hydrate yourself, especially on days that you're active. Aim for eight 8-ounce glasses of purified water on most days, and maybe a little more on the weekends during summertime.
    • As a good indicator of dehydration, take note of the color of your urine. Dark yellow can indicate dehydration, whereas an almost complete lack of yellow is usually an indication of normal hydration.
    • When replenishing fluids, avoid beverages with caffeine — it acts as a diuretic and stimulates you to urinate more frequently.
    • Some medications act as diuretics and may put you at greater risk for muscle cramps, so ask your doctor about the common side effects of your prescription drugs.
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    Don't forget about electrolytes. Electrolytes are electrically charged elements in your body fluids (blood and urine, primarily) that help to maintain the normal flow and distribution of water into and out of cells.[7] For example, sodium and potassium are particularly important electrolytes associated with muscle function and depletion of these elements is associated with muscle cramps.[8] A deficiency of electrolytes is usually the result of excessive perspiration because human sweat is rich in salts (sodium and potassium). As such, on days that you're perspiring, eat some healthy foods that contain sodium, such as oranges, carrots, cantaloupe, artichokes, and spinach.
    • With excessive perspiration, drinking lots of plain water over a short period of time may make things worse because the electrolytes in your body get diluted. In this situation, drink some fruit juice, vegetable juice, or "sports drink" as well.
    • Consider sprinkling some sea salt on your food at least once a day during summer months. Sea salt use is not associated with the negative side effects of excessive use of regular table salt, such as hypertension.
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    Consume more magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral needed for strong bones, but as an electrolyte (charged element) it's crucial for muscle relaxation.[9] For muscle function, calcium and magnesium work in conjunction: calcium is needed to contract muscle fibers, whereas magnesium is needed to release or relax muscle fibers. A dietary lack of magnesium (which is increasingly more common in the U.S. due to soil depletion and other factors) can lead to muscles spasms, cramps and general muscle dysfunction, particularly in the large muscle groups of the legs. As such, in order to prevent or combat muscles cramps, either supplement with magnesium (capsules or liquid) and/or eat magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis.
    • Healthy foods high in magnesium include: most fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy, dark leafy greens, avocados, bananas, dried fruit, pumpkin seeds.
    • Low levels of calcium and magnesium are common among pregnant women and likely a factor with the higher incidence of cramps.
    • A causative factor in restless leg syndrome during the night is a chronic lack of dietary magnesium.
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    Get regular massages. Deep tissue massages are helpful for muscle function in general because they help to reduce muscle tension and they promote better circulation, which are factors important for preventing spasms and cramps.[10] If your cramps commonly occur in specific areas (such as the feet or calf muscles), then a focused 30 minute massage in those areas would be a good start. Allow the massage therapist to go as deep as you can tolerate without wincing. In terms of frequency of treatment, everybody's situation is different. Some people may derive benefit and value from a massage every few months, others may seek it out weekly.
    • As an alternative, ask your partner or spouse to massage your chronically tight muscles on a regular basis. There's lots of instructional videos on the internet that can teach the basics of massage and offer pointers.
    • Always drink lots of uncaffeinated fluids following a massage in order to flush out inflammatory by-products and lactic acid from your body. Not doing so might trigger a headache or mild nausea.
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    Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. A relatively common cause of foot and lower leg cramps is wearing ill-fitting shoes — this is particularly true for women who wear high heels on a regular basis. Shoes that are too tight or narrow in the toe cap restricts circulation in the feet and lower legs and can cause spasms, cramps, and strains within the muscles. Furthermore, a lack of arch support can put more strain on the arches (plantar fascia) while weight-bearing and also lead to strain and cramping. As such, wear shoes that grip your heel, have supportive cushioned arches, and provide enough room to wiggle your toes.
    • Select shoes made from materials that can breathe (not rubber or plastics), which will reduce foot perspiration.
    • Get fitted for your new shoes later in the afternoon because that's when your feet are larger, usually due to some swelling and arch compression.[11]


  • Exercise regularly. Exercising for at least 20 minutes every day has numerous benefits, including reducing the risk of muscle cramps.
  • Quit smoking because it impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to muscles and other tissues, which are factors with cramps.
  • Short-term binging on alcohol or consuming too much over long periods of time promotes edema in the feet and legs and may increase the risk of cramps.

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Categories: Cramps